John 15:12 (New Revised Standard Version)

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Last Supper, Courtesy of Rijksmuseum, Europeana CC0

In the Great Commission, where a resurrected Jesus gives his final instructions to the disciples, he tells them to, “Teach all I have commanded you”. That line has always interested me, because what, exactly, did Jesus command? If you research other places where this word is used in the gospels, you will find two incidents of Jesus commanding a demon to come out of someone, and a few references to Moses’ commands to show oneself at the Temple to prove that leprosy has been cured. Not much else that Jesus commanded – except here, in John’s retelling of the last supper.

It’s been a long dinner party, with Jesus and all the disciples. Jesus has washed their feet to model humble servanthood and love of the disciples he now calls friends. He has made sure they are all fed, even Judas, and he has shared bread and wine in a ritual they are all a little confused about (Body? Blood? What kind of meal is this?). And now – Jesus issues his one command.

Seems simple enough – just love each other as Jesus has loved you. I wonder – did they think, “Not including Judas, I’m sure -we all know what he was like.”  Or, “Well, once a tax collector, always a tax collector, right? So not Matthew.” Or maybe: “Not Peter – you’ve seen how he couldn’t even get the foot washing part right!”

But the word command is the same in Greek as it is today in English – one speaking with all the authority giving an order. No exclusions mentioned. No “but what if I don’t like him, or his politics aren’t like mine, or he isn’t very good in community” escape clauses. Trust me, I’m a recovering attorney – there is no legal escaping this command to love. There’s only one person that can give this kind of command – the one that matters, and has already given his all for us.

As I entered into ministry as a District Superintendent almost two years ago now, I chose as my vision to “Lead with Love”. As laity and clergy alike, you all of the Arlington District have proven time and  time again how much you believe in loving others. You haven’t just loved those in your own churches, but people in your communities, people across Virginia, and people across the whole world. You haven’t just given money, but you’ve given time and attention and listened and shared stories. You haven’t just worked with those that looked like you, and spoke English, and were born here – you’ve worked with those who looked different, sounded different, and weren’t from around here. Your love has known no boundaries, and the command of Jesus has been made real, even in a pandemic.

As we begin the hard work of re-imagining what Leading in Love will look like in a world of vaccinations and new abilities like online learning and worship, leave room for this command of Jesus’. We realize we still have work to do in really loving one another as Jesus has loved us. As we move toward a post-pandemic world, how will your church show the love of Christ across racial, gender, identity and economic differences? Look for resources and developments from the District and from the Conference on these issues. Practice this command to love. Share your stories of that practice with others in your church and in your neighborhood. Gather with folks who want to live fully into this command. Lead with love, and let the world clearly “know us by our love, by our love – yes they will know we are Christians by our love….”

Stay calm, stay connected, stay focused on the Command to Love!